How can you tell the difference between rabbit and beaver felt?

Discussion in 'Hats' started by MattJH, Nov 23, 2008.

  1. MattJH

    MattJH One Too Many

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    1,388
    I have a brown Herbert Johnson made for Brooks Brothers and a grey 50's Stetson Whippet that originally cost $10. They both feel differently than other vintage fur felts that I have. I'm wondering if they're beaver instead of rabbit, but they're not marked saying so. I'm just wondering if there's some sort of detect-the-felt cheat sheet I could read, or something someone felt like typing up for me?
     
  2. harbilly

    harbilly New in Town

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    Location:
    Big City Weekends
    I know on my hats, and on my Grandfather's hats, that when a hat was made of the beaver the company printed it on the band or lining because it was a marketing point. Maybe some high end hats didn't bother because, of course, 'good hats are.......' might have been their mantra.
    I have no modern hats so I don't know what is done now.
    A few of my oldies are marked 'beaver' (one says 'beaver blend') and they feel 'slippery' like the beaver pelts I used to handle when I lived in the North. Longer fur hairs seem common in the beaver hats I own, and by longer I don't mean long, just a bit more length and nicer nap (is that the word) and feel. The ones marked 'pure lapin' (rabbit) don't 'slip' through my thumb and finger as easily. The ones marked 'beaver' are made wonderfully well also as if they were the high end (or I just ended up with 'better' examples by accident). Some marked 'genuine velour' just feel like good felt. We all know what that feels like. Your Mileage May Differ. Maybe an expert will weigh in here with good advice.:)
     
  3. Woodfluter

    Woodfluter Practically Family

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    The venerable Art might chime in here - I vaguely recall his saying that a brief encounter with flame will yield a distinctive odor. Not that it would do me any good! Maybe we need sample scraps of felt to do the comparison.
    - Bill
     
  4. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Singeing the hat body (spraying it with denatured alcohol and setting a flame to it) is a step taken by many hat makers to quickly remove those poking-out little hairs. Perhaps that is what he was referring to? And then, there's no harm done by burning a scrap of that felt left behind after the brim is cut to size.
     
  5. Dinerman

    Dinerman Super Moderator Bartender

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    You can tell what's rabbit and what's beaver by the feel of the felt, but it's something you have to have the experience with in person to recognize, hard to describe.
    Beaver is much finer, makes rabbit feel coarse in comparison, akin to the difference between rabbit and wool.

    If the stetson's marked "whippet" and doesn't say anywhere on it that it's beaver (5x, 7x, 50, 100), then it's not beaver.
     
  6. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Well ...

    With new hat bodies the difference between "staples" (rabbit) and all-beaver bodies is apparent, by sight and certainly by touch. And the bit of beaver fur (sorry, but I couldn't tell you the actual percentage) in the blended bodies makes 'em considerably finer than the staples.

    When you get into the vintage lids, it gets a whole lot harder to tell. There are some old felt hats that have a fine hand and appearance, yet they don't have a bit of beaver fur in 'em, or so I've been told by people who know of what they speak.

    There are factors other than the type of critter fur it is made from that contribute to a hat felt. I have no experience whatsoever in the felting process, but I'd imagine that some people do it better than others. And I know for certain that some hat makers do much better finish work than others.

    But in general, it's essentially as dinerman said ... Hard to describe, but you get a feel for it. To my eyes (and hands), the difference between an all-beaver and a blend isn't as obvious as the difference between a rabbit fur and a wool, but it's a good enough analogy. Again, the hands tell more than the eyes.
     
  7. indycop

    indycop I'll Lock Up

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    I don't know if I would hold that true in all cases or at least mine. I think I mentioned in a PM to you a certain beaver blend I had that was destined for the trash until a most appreciated hatter rebuilt it from a lump of dirty felt. Well that beaver blend was rougher/coarse than any of my rabbit hats. After it was rebuilt and sanded down some it was alot better. But as it came I would have thought it a wool blend it was so bad.

    I'm not to going to mention the brand or trash them, I just remain silent when it comes up.
     
  8. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Good point, IC.

    I recall that exchange, and it pains me still to have learned that some people charge what they do for such a lousy product. This small but growing industry can't afford the sort of ill will that inevitably springs from that.

    The people who supply me (and most others) with hat bodies offer staples, blends, and all-beavers. The differences are readily apparent, especially when compared side by side. The staples are adequate, the blends are quite nice, and the all-beavers are just splendid.

    As for the bad experience you had with that blend ...

    I believe that the factory that actually makes the hats either produces its own raw bodies or sources them from someone other than the fine people who supply me. And it sounds like the capable and conscientious fellow who made a decent hat out of that POS did what that factory could have done but didn't bother doing, which was to actually FINISH the darned thing.

    But your experience does add confirmation to my subsequent observation, which is that factors other than the type of fur contribute to the quality (or lack thereof) of the finished hat.
     
  9. indycop

    indycop I'll Lock Up

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    Well said!
     
  10. suitedcboy

    suitedcboy One Too Many

    I had a nice long visit with one of the western custom hatters some time back and he said the hat body maker has a lot of control in how the felt feels and its quality. The choice of the hair could make a 100% beaver have poor feel and a 100% rabbit feel very nice. The hair is not uniform all over the body of these two varmints. Time spent finishing also played a huge role as lots of work put into a rabbit or rabbit blend could give it feel that a poorly finished 100 % beaver felt would not aproach having.
    He did say that beaver is always more stable as to its weather/waterproof qualities.
    As to how to tell, that remains a good question when the hat is not from a maker that has consistent practices and labeling.
     
  11. retro50

    retro50 Familiar Face

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    Location:
    Calgary, Alberta
    Is this a fact? I was always under the impression that all vintage Stetson Whippets were in fact beaver, (50's and earlier) marked or not, 'cause beaver was just the way it was done back then.
     
  12. Dinerman

    Dinerman Super Moderator Bartender

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    Yep. Vintage Stetsons were fur felt, and some may have had some small beaver percentage, but most weren't beaver. 3X beaver quality was not a pure beaver for example, it was rabbit.

    5X clear beaver and above (c.1930s- '40s) and 7x clear beaver and above (c late '40s early '60s) were Stetson's beaver offerings.

    The whippet ran in the $10 or $12.50 pricerange, while Stetson's least expensive beaver hat at the same time was running $50. The fur, and the higher level of finishing that went with the finer hat body made for a much better, and more expensive hat than Stetson's standard offering.

    I've owned six vintage pure beaver hats, and they all have a very distinct feel to the felt, much finer, and much different than vintage rabbit fur/ blend hats. That being said, vintage rabbit, depending on the quality of the body and the finishing, can be an incredible thing, and is generally much nicer than standard rabbit production hats today.
     
  13. KatintheHat

    KatintheHat Suspended

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    Location:
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    I own a 3X beaver Stetson circa 1980 that is like cardboard next to my rabbits of today.

    Don't believe everything you read on sweatbands. ;)
     
  14. retro50

    retro50 Familiar Face

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Calgary, Alberta
    FYI

    Here is a question I sent to Stetson:

    "Do you have an archive available to the public with respect to vintage Stetson hats, specifically fedoras and the materials they were made of, how these materials were designated on the sweat band, etc. For instance, I own a 1950's Whippet, and there is no #X rating anywhere. What would this mean. Rabbit? Blend? All beaver? It would be nice to know how to find out such info about Stetson's fine vintage hats."

    And here is their reply:

    "There are no X reatings on Dress hats..

    the Whippet hat of that era was all rabbit fur.and as a coincidence, we are reviving the Whippet style for our new 2009 line."
     

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